The dyslexic student often finds the classroom a stressful and confusing place to be. There are many ways to alleviate their concerns and help create a more comfortable, stimulating and nurturing learning environment for them. We list here several suggestions you might find beneficial:
- Allow your dyslexic students to work at a pace that is not stressful for them. Permit them to do fewer assignments or allow more time to complete them all.
- Test them orally if their hand printing is slow and difficult. The student´s strongest sense may be auditory.
- Permit the use of a computer to do written work if your dyslexic student can type and they are more comfortable working on a computer. It offers many advantages to the dyslexic student whereas hand printing or writing creates more problems and greatly slow them down.
- Always design your questions and assignments around a given conclusion or fact. Dyslexic students think in concrete wholes, that is, they work backwards from a conclusion or fact to fill in all the parts. So give an overview of the assignment or subject being studied first and start with what they are going to learn when they have finished. Then fill in the sequence of steps that will lead them to that conclusion. Do not use open-ended questions that can have many answers. Be specific about what you want them to think bout. Do not give them abstract or incomplete instructions to complete their assignment. Avoid giving them work that must be worked out in a logical, step-by-step sequence to arrive at the answer unless you have thoroughly prepared them for this by giving them an overview and a complete picture of what they are learning about.
- Do not base the dyslexic student´s marks on spelling, punctuation or grammatical errors. Errors in assignments should be corrected. However these are very abstract concepts for them that the right brain does not easily process and cannot visualize as concrete images. It is not their fault they don’t understand language arts, it is the fault of the school system that does not teach them these skills in a way that makes sense to them by focusing on their particular right-brained learning style. If these errors must be corrected before a student hands in an assignment or be graded and passed on this work, then permit someone else to edit the mistakes in spelling, grammar and punctuation. Parents are often helpful in this.
- Look for ideas, not clerical errors. Getting ideas down on paper is much more important than fretting over spelling, grammar and punctuation. When teaching them how to write, remember that refusing to accommodate their problems with these language skills will slow the dyslexic students down, frightening them and lowering their self-esteem. This will result in shutting them down and taking away their freedom to think, imagine, dream and fulfill their potential. If they do not achieve what they are capable of accomplishing intellectually they soon become depressed and give up.
- Their ability to use the correct grammar, punctuation and spelling forms may or may not improve with age, depending on the teaching methods the students receive while learning these skills. It is possible for some dyslexics to learn the skills of language arts but others will not ever really comprehend these abstract concepts and will have to rely on spell-check and the assistance of family, friends or associates to help.
- Do not expect a dyslexic student to be able to use a dictionary to correct spelling errors. This is sequencing at its most difficult and may be nearly impossible for many of these students. It is an exhausting, frustrating waste of time. Remember, the right brain needs a complete image to understand and work with it. To use a dictionary the student must have a full mental image and understanding of the whole dictionary page on which the word will be found. For some, this extends to a full visual image of the entire dictionary. Then the process of picking out a word, one small part on the page. The brain must be able to see the sequence of letters in every word on the page, then sequence the words in order to pick out the required word. Finding words in a dictionary is a great waste of time and stress unless they have had full training and understanding of building words, using prefixes, stems, roots and suffixes.
The solution is to print the words correctly for dyslexic students. Then have them copy yours and follow this up with using the thesaurus on the computer and teach them how to look up synonyms (different words with identical or at least similar meanings) or in a dictionary on the internet which brings up only one word at a time.
- Answer the dyslexic student´s questions as often as possible, but keep your answers very short, clear and specific. Be precise. Dyslexics tend to have many questions about what they are working on or how to complete an assignment. They are thinking about the “big picture” which results in their considering all possibilities and needing clarification before they proceed. Do not repeat your answers unless the student asks you to do so. Then answer only what the student asks. Long explanations, multiple approaches, wordy definitions, or abstract thinking are all very tiring and difficult for these students who are looking for a concrete image to help them complete or understand their assignments.
- Try to complete a lesson at one sitting. An incomplete lesson is entirely lost on them. If this is not possible, then provide a written summary, extra time during the same day to answer the student´s questions or find ways to teach the complete lesson in one sitting, or give them the start and ending of the lesson first and then fill in the middle.
- Do not criticize your dyslexic students for not paying attention or being lazy. If they look like they are daydreaming, they may be learning by listening or they can no longer understand the lesson and are trying to cope with the situation. They are actually working hard to understand what you are saying. If you talk too much and do not use any concrete pictures, examples or diagrams, you will destroy their ability to concentrate and make sense out of what you are saying.
- Answer their questions, but do not lecture nor criticize them for not understanding the lesson. The problem maybe in the teaching methods you are using. Find another approach. There are many other methods that work. Let them tell you what works best for them, perhaps it is to discuss the information orally or demonstrate it, rather than read about it.
- Instead of long written assignments, turn these tasks into projects that involve all the senses. These can be done for example, on pieces of colored paper to which they can add real objects, pictures, drawings, sketches, photos, words of explanation and oral reports. Perhaps having them create a portfolio of accumulated pages of information about the subject. They love making handmade maps, three dimensional constructs such as dioramas, clay figures, paper mache, etc. The dyslexic student learns best doing projects that involve seeing, listening, discussing and using their hands. This is using the auditory, visual and kinesthetic senses.
- Build their self-esteem. Do not punish them for behaviors and learning styles that are normal for the right-brained student when learning. Try to understand how they process information and be accepting even if you have a hard time believing what they require to learn about something. An example would be the endless questions they have just to do a lesson sheet. They are not trying to be annoying, the dyslexic student really needs to know the answers to all their questions so they understand what is expected of them.
To conclude I’m going to tell you a story to illustrate the difficulties dyslexic students have with fitting in at school. When my dyslexic daughter Genevieve was four years old she started attending pre-school. After about a week I received a call from her teacher. She was very concerned because Gen was not participating in any activities in the classroom. She said she wouldn’t draw, sing, dance, do art projects, join into discussions or practice the alphabet and numbers. She just sat in her seat. The teacher thought she was very shut down and maybe had emotional problems. This came as a surprise to me as Gen was a very outgoing sociable little girl and definitely did not have any issues with talking, at least at home.
I asked Gen why she wasn’t joining in with the rest of the class. She said because nobody had told her she was supposed to. She did not have experience with a school setting so she wasn’t aware of what she should do. Dyslexic children do not do well as followers. They need to be told specifically what their role is, what they are supposed to do and often want to know why they are doing it.
I told her to go ahead and participate in class and that she was meant to join in with what the other children were doing. I then called the teacher back to explain my daughter’s dilemma and told her if Gen seemed to not understand an activity and what was required of her could she explain it to her. The teacher didn’t believe me but agreed to try. The problem was resolved and Gen did fine in pre-school after that. This scenario is what can happen when they are very young so try to imagine how difficult and confusing school can get as they get older.
The dyslexic student will flourish in an atmosphere of tolerance, encouragement and understanding of their personal needs and individual learning style. It is important to realize that these children can learn and do well if some accommodations can be made.